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Marijuana Measures Collecting Signatures For 2008 Ballot

Portland residents, who want to remove all penalties for possessing an ounce of marijuana, started collecting signatures for the 2008 ballot Monday.

Another, national, marijuana group, which wants to legalize pot outright, is busy working on a state measure, too. But a third initiative attempts to scale back the state's medical marijuana law. Kristian Foden-Vencil reports.

If Oregon were China, then 2008 might have to be called the 'Year of The Pot'.

So far there are three marijuana measures.

The first is restricted to Portland. Backers say they want to remove all civil fines for possessing small amounts of cannabis.

The state was the first to decriminalize pot in the 70's and possession is now a  civil penalty – like a traffic ticket.

The measure’s chief sponsor, Parker Bell, says it’s not right that people have to pay  fines because they prefer a hit of marijuana at night instead of a glass of wine.

Parker Bell: “I know people who’ve got over $600 fines and about six hours community service for having about a $10 or gram of marijuana on their person.”

Bell, who was out on the street gathering signatures, says his measure is about treating people fairly.

Parker Bell: “So many people use marijuana, whether for medicinal use, or relaxing at the end of the day, or whatever. And we’re not criminals. We go to work, work 40 hours a week, come home and we shouldn’t be treated like criminals.”

But as written, the proposal does not directly address civil penalties, stating instead that those posessing an ounce or less of pot shall be exempt from state criminal laws, which currently do not address such marijuana use.

A second measure, organized by the national marijuana group NORML, would take a much bigger step.  It would legalize pot outright. Meaning it could be sold in Oregon Liquor stores and taxed.

It would also allow farmers to grow hemp, which can be used for a variety of products like paper, clothing and oil.
Such a move would set up a battle royal with the federal government.

The third measure aims to restrict, rather than expand the use of marijuana. Sponsor and former state legislator, Kevin Mannix, says it would substitute pills and a prescription system for the current medical marijuana program.

Kevin Mannix: “The problem we have is that the Medical Marijuana Act is being abused. So you might as well throw out the word medical and just call it the marijuana act. Because we now see a propagation of marijuana by people who have absolutely no medical need to be making use of cannabis.”

When Oregon’s medical marijuana law passed in 1998, experts thought about 500 people a year would apply to use the drug for relief. But currently, about 1700 people a month apply.

Kevin Mannix: “The other initiatives that are out there right now are further attempts to legitimize I’ll call it ‘street drugs.’ And that would be moving in the wrong direction in our society. I’ve just seen too much information now as a concerned citizen that marijuana in its current form is not the weed that was smoked in the 1960’s. Believe me. The THC content is incredible and sadly it is a gateway drug for young people to other drugs.”

If the backers of the three marijuana measures convince enough Oregonians to sign their petitions, voters could decide the measures next year in November.

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